Wednesday, January 18, 2012

National Archives and Records Administration, Pacific Region, Riverside

When I started really getting involved with genealogy, I was living in Santa Ana, California and it was 1979. I had papers and pictures all over the dining room table and was anxiously trying to piece together what I had with what I knew in order to figure out what I needed. A friend came by and saw the mess and suggested that the National Archives would be a good place to go for immigration documents and census records (this was long before the Internet, when finding images on a census meant a lot of cranking). I had not heard of this place (I had gone to the Los Angeles Genealogy Library – in the years before the Mormon Church adopted the term “Family History” – and was familiar with searching the census, but since we had moved to Santa Ana from Hollywood, that was no longer a convenient place to go). I was thrilled to learn that the National Archives was just down the freeway in Laguna Niguel. I started making fairly regular visits to the location until life got in the way and I had to postpone further research in favor of finishing my college degrees and making some money.

Fast forward to 1999, I was living in Riverside County and had again taken up the endless search for my ancestors. Both parents were gone and now I was on my own (though I’d gleaned from them a number of details about their lives and they had left all the documents, photos, and family memorabilia to me). The National Archives was so far away at this point in my life, but the Internet was right in my home. I researched there and at the Corona Family History Center, but knew something was missing for local exploration. You can imagine my excitement when, a couple of years later, I heard that the Archives would have a repository just a short way from my home. The excitement was short-lived when I learned that it was not to be a research facility. And then everything changed.

I know that my friends in Orange County are frustrated because the Pacific Region of the National Archives and Records Administration has left their neighborhood and relocated to Riverside County (its zip code is the same as for Perris, but it is far from the city of Perris). The moment I heard that they would be about 10 miles from my home, I started bugging the folks (this being about nine months before the actual move and re-opening to the public): I wanted to volunteer. One person sent me to another, but eventually I got to someone who would listen. We met. I bugged him. I called him. I emailed him. Finally they were ready to set up their volunteer staff (now all the paperwork, security check, etc. was to begin). I was approved as a volunteer just a week before heading off on a four-week genealogy trip! They held the spot, however, and I have been with the Riverside facility as a (as close to) weekly (as possible) volunteer since September 2010. I am grateful that Kerry Bartels didn’t ban me from the location as a potential stalker, considering how much I kept popping in before finally being signed on!

Most of the local Southern California societies have heard Kerry speak – at seminars, classes, and society meetings. He is a dynamic speaker, but also amazingly knowledgeable. I think I know a few things, but every week Kerry teaches me more. And he is the most patient of teachers. If you visit the NARA facility in Riverside, do not hesitate to ask for his help. There are about four to six volunteers there who are qualified to assist researchers, but the facility wants more (hint, hint). The major problem: it’s so far off the beaten track (but, honestly, just off the I-215 in Riverside County – see map). And many don’t know what is housed there (sorry, I don’t have that much space here).

At this point, I am going to refer you to my personal blog where I occasionally discuss various microfilmed records that are housed that the National Archives, Pacific Region, Riverside County: . Here you can read how to navigate the NARA website to learn about what films are housed in which facilities. It takes you, step-by-step, through the search process and, even if you are not looking for a film in the Pacific Region, Riverside, it can assist you in finding where the film is that you seek.

The Riverside County building is located at the end of a cul-de-sac at 23123 Cajalco Road (this road is actually parallel to a section of Cajalco Expressway, the exit from the I-215 freeway). To access the Road (as opposed to staying on the Expressway), go South on Harvill (that’s where the Jack-in-the-Box is located – essentially the only place for lunch in the general area of the Archives). From Harvill, turn right (west) on Cajalco Road and take it to the end. Towards the left side of the cul-de-sac is a driveway and a tiny sign telling you that you need go just a little further to the Archives. (Most GPS units will get you to that spot, but because it is so well camouflaged, it is hard to realize that you have arrived!) There is a “check in” booth where you ring the notification bell and when you are asked “May we help you?” just respond, “genealogy,” and you will be granted entrance.

There is plenty of parking and, if you are like me and occasionally drive an over-sized vehicle, there is a lot of room . . . don’t hesitate to enter the parking lot. Entrance to the building is a short walk from your car (no need to concern yourself with a long walk, as I vividly remember from my Laguna Niguel researching days). And parking is free. Once in the first set of doors, you will be “buzzed in” to the lobby (note: once you have made your presence known at the parking lot gate, someone will be waiting for you to walk up – I recommend that, if you plan to organize a lot of things in your car before coming in, that you do so before getting buzzed in at the gate . . . the receptionist is waiting for you).

There is no need to make a reservation for coming in to do research, but if you wish a tour of the facility (this is usually done in groups), please call to arrange that in advance (951-956-2000). I remember in the Laguna Niguel building that we were not allowed to bring in cameras or have cell phones turned on. They are not as strict here (at least, not in the main research area – the secured viewing room is a bit different). In fact, you are permitted to take a camera in to photograph pages of a book or even images on the microfilm readers, but ABSOLUTELY no flash photography is permitted. Oh, and getting a cell signal in the research room is virtually impossible! That’s OK, conversations should be taken into the lobby or even outside, for courtesy’s sake.

There are nine or ten computers in the main research room; all of these are linked to the Internet and give patrons free access to (Institutional version), Fold3 (formerly Footnote), and HeritageQuest. All copies made from the computers are free (your tax dollars at work), but any copies made from the microfilm scanner machine (which, sadly, makes very poor renditions) cost 50 cents each (honestly, I get better copies with my digital camera, taking right from the microfilm image). There is no arrangement for transferring microfilm images to a flash drive, hard drive on a computer, or email program to send to yourself.

The facility hours are 8:00am to 4:30pm, Monday through Friday, and the same hours on the first Saturday of each month. As one can expect, that first Saturday can be very crowded so, if you have the freedom to select a week day, that is recommended. Mondays tend to be busiest (perhaps people have met with relatives over the weekend and have much to research). As with many research facilities, there is an equipment usage limit, if others are waiting: 30 minutes.

Microfilm holdings focus on Native American records and other government documents for those in Southern California, Nevada, and Arizona. That does not mean there are not additional records as well (see my website for articles on that, as mentioned earlier, as well as the description of the facility at ).

Suggestion: if you are planning for a day at the Archives, arriving in early morning and staying all day, consider bringing your own lunch (there is a lovely lunchroom that you are welcome to use, as well as an open-air patio; microwave ovens, refrigerators, and ice are all available, as are some snack machines). The closest lunch locations, though only a few blocks away, are fast food and what you can get at gas station quick-marts, as well as one pizza place (that I cannot vouch for, as I have never tried it).

Food and drink are not permitted in the main research room, but lockers are provided. They take a quarter to use, but that is refunded when you remove your items and leave (and the receptionist always has some quarters, if necessary). Lockers are large enough for coats, umbrellas, books, etc. but book bags and computers are permitted in the main research room (unlike some other Archives facilities).

If you are looking for a friendly place to spend a research day, I don’t think you can beat the National Archives and Records Administration, Pacific Region, Riverside. And if you have discovered that this facility has something you need, but coming to Riverside is out of the question, you can email them for a free look-up: But be patient. It is usually Kerry who gets these assignments and he is one busy man!

Submitted by:

Jean Wilcox Hibben, PhD, MA, CG

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